In an effort to get Saudi Arabia to recognize Israel, the Biden Administration is considering offering Riyadh a U.S. civilian nuclear cooperative agreement that would allow the Kingdom to enrich uranium, a process that could bring it within weeks or days of acquiring a nuclear weapon. With nuclear fuel making activities, such as uranium enrichment, there is no way to assure timely warning of possible military diversions: By the time there is a detection, it’s too late to prevent the last few steps to making a bomb.
This inherent safeguards gap makes any endorsement of enrichment in the Kingdom dangerous. Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud is publicly on record pledging to acquire nuclear weapons if he believes Iran is acquiring one. Some argue this risk must be taken to keep the Kingdom from embracing ever tighter relations with China. This is mistaken The United States is the richest nation in the world. It has other more powerful and far less dangerous ways to influence the Saudis’ thinking.
To clarify these points, The Foundation for the Defense of Democracy and The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center today are releasing a letter to President Biden urging him not to finalize any civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with the Kingdom unless it legally binds Saudi Arabia to foreswear enriching uranium, reprocessing spent reactor fuel, and operating heavy water reactors or heavy water production plants. It also calls on the President to require the Kingdom to agree to intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nuclear inspections under an Additional Protocol. These requirements are identical to the ones the Bush and Obama Administrations secured from Saudi Arabia’s neighbor, the United Arab Emirates, and are known as the “Gold Standard” of nonproliferation.
The letter is signed by two former deputy director generals of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for Safeguards, a former US representative to the IAEA, a former deputy executive chairman of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) overseeing the disarmament of Iraq and assistant Secretary of state for political military affairs, two former assistant secretaries of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, one former assistant secretary for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, a former NSC senior director for counterproliferation and biodefense, two senior State Department strategic arms control and nonproliferation advisors, a special representative of the President for nuclear nonproliferation, and a chief of analysis for the Director of Central Intelligence’s Nonproliferation Center.
What’s worth noting is that these former officials served under Presidents Trump, Obama, Clinton, and Bush. They all felt comfortable signing the letter.
September 21, 2023
President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President,
As a bipartisan group of Middle East regional and nuclear nonproliferation experts, many of whom have served in both Democratic and Republican administrations, we urge you to reject the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s request for uranium enrichment as part of or separate from a normalization agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Such an agreement could bring much needed stability to the region, building upon certain positive Saudi policies and encouraging further progress. However, Riyadh does not need uranium enrichment to produce peaceful nuclear energy. Enrichment could bring Saudi Arabia to the brink of acquiring nuclear arms, and U.S. policy should prohibit it.
Since the dawn of the atomic age, it has been a core U.S. national security priority to prevent the spread of uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing technologies, which could be used to make fuel for atomic weapons. America has pursued this policy even with potential nuclear cooperation partners that are close U.S. allies. Public reports indicate Riyadh has requested an enrichment facility operated by Americans inside Saudi Arabia, but this poses an unacceptable proliferation risk, particularly given Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s public comments on nuclear weapons.
Riyadh’s threats to choose China as a nuclear supplier are hardly reason to change this critical U.S. policy. Indeed, acquiescing to such threats amounts to a sign of weakness and could encourage similar efforts by other countries. The United States has multiple tools of leverage to persuade Riyadh not to choose China as a nuclear supplier and to disrupt cooperation on uranium enrichment. At the same time, the United States should significantly intensify its efforts to roll back Iran’s uranium enrichment activities. Providing Saudi Arabia with the same latent capability would be counter-productive and could trigger a regional arms race.
Any nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia must meet the highest nonproliferation standards, including the commitment made by the United Arab Emirates in 2009 to forgo enrichment and reprocessing technologies (also known as the “gold standard” of nonproliferation), and enhanced inspection and transparency measures through a strong Additional Protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
We are confident you share our goal of preventing the spread of atomic weapons and the means to acquire them and urge you to uphold longstanding U.S. nonproliferation policy.
Anthony Ruggiero, Senior Director and Senior Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ (FDD) Nonproliferation and Biodefense Program, and former Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Council Senior Director for Counterproliferation and Biodefense (co-organizer)
Henry Sokolski, Executive Director, Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, and former Deputy for Nonproliferation Policy, U.S. Department of Defense (co-organizer)
Andrea Stricker, Deputy Director and Research Fellow, FDD’s Nonproliferation and Biodefense Program (co-organizer)
David Albright, Founder and President, Institute for Science and International Security
Ilan Berman, Senior Vice President, American Foreign Policy Council
Peter Bradford, former Commissioner, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, former Chair, New York Public Service Commission, and former Adjunct Professor of Nuclear Power and Public Policy, Yale School of the Environment and Vermont Law School
Susan F. Burk, former Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation
Sarah Burkhard, Senior Research Associate, Institute for Science and International Security
Thomas Countryman, Board Chair of the Arms Control Association and former Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security
Mark Dubowitz, Chief Executive, FDD
Christopher Ford, Visiting Fellow, Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, Visiting Professor, Missouri State University’s Graduate School of Defense & Strategic Studies, and former Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation
Torrey Froscher, former Chief of Analysis, Director of Central Intelligence Nonproliferation Center
Robert Gallucci, Professor, Georgetown University, and former Ambassador-at-Large and Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs
Pierre Goldschmidt, former Deputy Director General and the Head of the Department of Safeguards, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
Thomas D. Grant, Fellow, Lauterpacht Centre for International Law at the University of Cambridge, Faculty Director and Executive Board Member, LITSAT Initiative at George Washington University, and former Senior Advisor for Strategic Planning, Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, U.S. Department of State
Olli Heinonen, Distinguished Fellow, Stimson Center, and former Deputy Director General and the Head of the Department of Safeguards, IAEA
R. Scott Kemp, Associate Professor, Nuclear Science and Engineering, MIT, and former Science Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control, U.S. Department of State
Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association
Gregory D. Koblentz, Associate Professor, George Mason University
Valerie Lincy, Executive Director, Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control
Edwin S. Lyman, PhD, Director of Nuclear Power Safety, Union of Concerned Scientists
Jacob Nagel, Senior Fellow, FDD, Visiting Professor, Technion, Brigadier General (Res.), and former Acting National Security Advisor to Benjamin Netanyahu and head of Israel’s National Security Council
Yleem D.S. Poblete, Ph.D, former Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, and congressional negotiator on “gold standard” for U.S.-UAE and other nuclear cooperation agreements
Jonathan Schanzer, Senior Vice President, FDD, and former intelligence analyst, U.S. Department of the Treasury
Sharon Squassoni, Research Professor, George Washington University, and former U.S. Department of State and Arms Control and Disarmament Agency official
Behnam Ben Taleblu, Senior Fellow, FDD
Ambassador Jackie Wolcott, former U.S. representative to the IAEA
Click here for a PDF of the letter.